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How Green is Your Workout?

There’s something about working up a good sweat that just feels eco-friendly. But is it? Apparently even foot power isn’t carbon neutral, with a typical American runner pumping out 19 pounds of carbon emissions running a marathon. And that’s not even counting the 30 pounds of carbon it takes to make those shoes on your feet—the equivalent of burning a lightbulb for a week straight. Take that across the 25 billion pairs sold annually, and we’re talking a lot of lightbulbs.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you put your exercise shoes out to pasture and sit quietly, breathing out as little carbon as possible. (In fact, pack on some extra pounds doing that and you may find yourself filling up at the pump more often; according to Consumer Reports, rising weights cost us an extra billion gallons of gas a year). But there are simple things you can do to green-ify your workout routine.

Rethink your commute.
I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, but I still have a “commute” of taking my son to day care about three miles away. One of my favorite time- and gas-saving things to do when the weather is nice is to pick him up on foot with the jogging stroller. My husband and I also aim to bike or walk to work whenever we can, him to the hospital or to his school, me to the library or coffee shop where I sometimes go to crank out freelance work.

Work your clothesline.
Exercise clothes make up a big portion of our household laundry (well, they did before a cloth diaper-clad baby made his appearance, but that’s another story). An Energy Star front-loader laundry machine helps us minimize water use, but equipment aside, how you wash your clothes can also make a big difference—both to your clothes and the globe. Washing your clothes on cold may cut your energy use by 90 percent, saving 350 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year. For even bigger savings, line dry them afterwards. Bonus: Your clothes will last longer, too.

Recycle your shoes.
Short of embracing the barefoot movement there’s only so much you can do about shoes. For most of us, they’re a necessary part of protecting our feet during workouts, and the more you exercise, the faster you churn through them. Manufacturers are periodically working on ways to reduce waste and utilize recycled materials, so voting with your dollars helps. But after your shoes are spent, there are still ways you can eek more life out of them. Consider donating them, even if they’re no longer useful to you, to someone who otherwise might not have shoes. No longer wearable at all? They can be transformed into the surface of a playground or running track (talk about full circle). Here are some ways to find new life for your footwear:

Make your own energy bars.
Hopefully you’re already filling up a reusable water bottle. But there’s another way you can reduce waste: Skip the pre-packaged pre- or post-workout snacks. Save money and wrappers by DIYing your energy bars. Search Pinterest for “energy bars” to find tons of recipes to try.

Skip the treadmill.
I know, I know. Watching TV while you work out is the ultimate multi-tasking method. But the more plugged in your workout (cell phone/music player included!) the more electricity your workout is sucking up. Sure, cardio machines have their time and place. But anything powered by a plug is inherently less green than going au naturel. Plus, by treating yourself like a hamster on a wheel, you lose out on the stress-busting benefits that come with spending time in the great outdoors.

Do you have any green workout habits to share? Happy Earth Day!
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